Microenterprise loan fund fills critical rural financing gap

Two new Benton county businesses are the latest to get the startup boost they need from a new business financing resource in west central Missouri: The nonprofit START HERE Revolving Loan Fund. CC’s Butcher Shop in historic downtown Cole Camp will cut meat to order and stock fresh and local products for lake-goers and locals alike. The Bea-utiful Faces spa in downtown Warsaw will offer a range of aesthetican services, from facials and micro-planing to massage.

Both businesses build local commerce that is so important to rural living. Both are also prime examples of what the START HERE Revolving Loan Fund is designed to do: Support rural businesses that are ready to get going and growing but are too new, too small, or too credit-challenged for traditional bank loans. The START HERE Revolving Loan Fund began operating last fall. It has helped launch three new businesses and one expansion. Five more micro-enterprise loans are in the works. New Growth convenes and coordinates the START HERE Business Acceleration Network and loan fund.

Lifelong Dream

Rod and Crystal Casteel expect to open CC’s Butcher Shop in May after fixing up the old Maple Street Bakery building at 124 S. Maple in downtown Cole Camp. It’s a lifelong dream come true for Rod, who has been in the meat-cutting business for 32 years.

The Buffalo, MO, native got his start under Woods Supermarket’s Don Woods Sr., built his retail experience at companies including Hy-Vee and Dillons, learned the front end of meat grading and cutting at locker plants, and built expertise in processes like dry aging at the regional Harter House — “Famous for our Meats” — chain.

“My main goal is product that is fresh and responsibly produced and customers who are happy taking it home to their families,” he said.

CC’s will be an “old-time butcher shop” with nothing pre-wrapped, and “no boxed meats” from national processors. CC’s Butcher Shop has established direct purchasing relationships for local beef and chicken and for fresh seafood, as well. Rod said he expects to grow CC’s local meat purchasing further as the startup business grows.

Business Support Team

Along with Rod, co-owner Crystal Casteel said CC’s Butcher Shop would not have reached this point if not for a regional business support team that kept answering their questions, directing them to resources, and encouraging them through the startup process.

Celebrating CC’s Butcher Shop’s microenterprise loan are [front L-R] Rod and Crystal Casteel and [back L-R] Kelly Asbury, Lisa Zimmerman, Jo Ann Lane, and Amie Breshears.

“They believed in us even when we didn’t,” she said. “And they’re not leaving! If I have a question next week or next year, I know I still have this team of people to go to.”

Benton County Economic Developer Jo Ann Lane pulled her START HERE colleagues together to wrap their collective knowledge and resources around the Casteel’s business development.

The team is made of staff from organizations that make up the START HERE Business Acceleration Network, which launched the START HERE Revolving Loan Fund late last year to fill a critical financing and credit-building gap for rural entrepreneurs. The community development corporation New Growth coordinates the network and administers the loan fund with its parent organization West Central Missouri Community Action Agency (West Central). Other founding START HERE members are the Kaysinger Basin Regional Planning Commission (Kaysinger), the Small Business Development Corporation at State Fair Community College (MO-SBDC), and University of Missouri Extension-West Central Region (UM-Extension).

“The START HERE network has been a key to connecting all the right resources for this business,” Jo Ann Lane said. Collaborators on the team with her are MO-SBDC’s Kelly Asbury, UM-Extension’s Amie Breshears, and West Central’s Lisa Zimmerman and Michelle Smith.


START HERE combines business technical assistance with micro-enterprise financing to help rural entrepreneurs take their next business steps and move past obstacles like credit scores damaged in the 2008 national financial meltdown.

Pam Dugan is one who will fulfill a life goal in May when she opens her Bea-Utiful Faces spa in downtown Warsaw. A licensed aesthetician, Pam said, “I’ve always wanted to do something that would be of service to people. This is an opportunity in the next chapter of my life to do what I enjoy doing.”

Sealing the microenterprise loan fund deal with the new Bea-Utiful Faces spa are [L_R] Jo Ann Lane, Pam Dugan, and Lisa Zimmerman.

Pam Dugan faced a Catch-22 common to startup rural businesses, which typically lack the business income history and the credit scores that conservative commercial banks require. She has spent the last decade recovering financially from the 2008 Great Recession; she has everything she needs to be successful in business expect that all-important credit score.

The START HERE Revolving Loan Fund will assist with startup financing and with positive reporting to credit bureaus as Pam repays the loan, which will improve her credit score.

Bankable Borrowers

Together the START HERE Business Acceleration Network and Revolving Loan Fund are designed to help rural entrepreneurs build their businesses, build their credit, and move on to traditional bank financing as they grow.

“We are here, like hometown bankers historically, finding ways to say Yes to the good character of so many rural entrepreneurs and the solid business opportunities we need to support in this region,” said Lisa Zimmerman, Chief Economic Inclusion Officer at West Central Missouri Community Action Agency.

“This is how we build up the businesses and bankable rural borrowers that our rural lenders today need to see walk through their doors.”


A central point of contact for assistance through the START HERE network and revolving loan fund is the New Growth Women’s Business Center, which serves women and men in 15 area counties.